It’s not a secret that there’s no love lost between Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte. In fact, we counted a full six rounds in their pugilistic battle of words before a truce was declared ahead of Chelsea's match at Old Trafford a week ago.
Conte is now facing a withering hail of criticism for his tactical approach to Sunday’s match against Manchester City. It’s hard to find anyone who’ll defend him.
Except, astonishingly, Jose Mourinho. Then again, as a man who's faced more than his fair share of criticism for similar tactics, not to mention someone who's never been shy of criticising the media for their narratives, it's perhaps entirely unsurprising that he's happy to jump to Conte's defense for whatever (self-serving?) reasons.
Speaking after his red shirts finished a rousing two-goal comeback against Crystal Palace on Monday night — Nemanja Matic, of all players, scoring the winner in added-on time — the Manchester United manager, himself twice divorced from Chelsea, came to Conte’s aid.
“Honestly, I know what you are writing as a consequence of yesterday.
”But Chelsea is a fantastic team and, I know it looks a bit strange because you know we had problems in the past, but it’s quite ridiculous that I have to say how unfair it is to speak the way people are speaking about the English champion.”
It wasn’t that long ago that Mourinho was taking (not so sly) digs at Conte’s coaching style in an effort to talk up his own efforts with the Red Devils.
It would be a pity if Mourinho taints his own Chelsea legacy with self-serving snipes at Conte's achievements. Seems inevitable though #cfc— Liam Twomey (@liam_twomey) February 11, 2017
But suddenly on Monday, Mourinho wasn’t taking digs at Conte’s approach. Instead he was praising it.
“They are still the English champion. Chelsea was strong against us. They started very strong and created difficulty in that initial part of the game.”
-Jose Mourinho; source: Goal
So what’s going on here? I suspect that a couple of things are motivating Mourinho. The first is that he’s brutally familiar with the internal politics at Chelsea and he empathizes with what Conte is going through right now.
The second is that all professional coaches belong to an informal fraternity. They share a life of getting hired to be fired. They’ve all experienced the pressures, stresses, challenges and insecurities that come with their chosen profession. It’s rare that they don’t speak highly of each other, regardless of won-loss record.
They’ve walked a mile in the other man’s shoes. They know it’s a hard mile.
Whether Conte can recover Chelsea remains to be seen. Mourinho's words will have no effect on that task. But after 18 months of acrimony, we can perhaps begin a new era of coexistence ... at least until Chelsea become good again and start threatening others in the top four race.